I first met Michael in the spring of 2018. My wife, Mary, and I were in the thick of planting a new church in the suburbs of Chicago with a heart to serve the community and share the gospel of hope and restorative grace in Jesus Christ. We were filled with the Spirit, driven by our faith, and ambitious about what the Lord might do through our new ministry. Even our sending organization was optimistic in our vision, experience, and the possibilities of what might come of starting a new evangelistic community of faith. But optimism gave way to discouragement, confusion, and deep theological questioning.
I understand this is common among new church planters. Regardless of their training or experience, many become deeply burdened and often succumb to mounting pressure or discouragement. However, being on the vulnerable and unprotected frontlines of an impending cultural collapse of postmodernism, growing secularization, and the declining trust in anything related or affiliated with “church,” we knew God was helping us see that something had to change. It was becoming clear to us the North American “Evangelical Exile” was well underway, and if we had any hope to be part of God’s mission and plan for his future church, we needed to lay down our ways and follow his ways.
Mary is a former student of Michael’s — “Dr. Cooper” to her. In God’s undeniable timing and perfect orchestration, Mary had reconnected with Dr. Cooper earlier in 2017 and the dialogue began. He shared about his experiences studying church planting movements around the globe. He was actively equipping and training hundreds of church planters in both open and closed countries. As a missiologist, Michael was seeing the Great Commission at work in explosive and miraculous ways. Stories like his often left me pondering, “Why not here?”
Michael happened to be traveling through Chicago later that spring and we eagerly set up a meeting. We sat down for the first time at the Panera Bread where I’m presently writing the Foreword to this book. It was at this meeting that we shared our concerns with contemporary forms of evangelicalism, discussed the findings of mass rates of conversions to Christianity taking place in other parts of the world such as Asia and the Middle East, and explored the implications for the church in the West.
Michael also shared some early thoughts he had been working on regarding the Apostle Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. His thesis was centered on this influential pagan city in the first century that saw an incredible church multiplication movement focused on a single goal — the glorification of God in all things. No programs, no central funding, no cathedrals, no professional clergy, and no evangelistic events. Just the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and faithful believers in Christ living to glorify the Father against all odds.
If these were the pieces to a missiological puzzle that led to a multiplication movement recorded in the New Testament church, then shouldn’t we expect to see evidence of similar movements today? As it turns out, we do.
Backed by research and robust missiological exegesis, Ephesiology explores this tension between the first Christian movement and modern movements or the lack thereof in Western contexts. What Ephesiology has sought to do is what few have attempted — let alone succeed in. Ephesiology seeks to stand in the gap of the broad spectrum of Christian ecclesiology, explore its roots in the New Testament, remain committed to traditional orthodoxy, and apply a missiological-theism as a foundational practice and underpinning to the purpose and mission of every disciple of Jesus Christ.
Ephesiology is not another methodology or attempt to recontextualize evangelicalism to a growing secularized West. Ephesiology is the re-examination of the ancient gospel message given to us in the New Testament with the goal for every believer to participate in God’s plan — to unite all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).
Ephesiology and the ideas contained within this book have the potential to disrupt the majority of existing institutional and historical traditions of the faith over the millennia. Such a disruption is ultimately necessary and bound to come upon Western Christianity. Will we purposefully seek to restore the church and what has been lost on our own, or will we be forced to re-examine ourselves in exile? It’s in this light that I believe Ephesiology is part of the answer (if not the answer) to what God hopes to accomplish through his children in the rapidly evolving 21st century.
I’m deeply thankful for Michael’s friendship, his invitation to allow people like Andrew Johnson and myself to speak into and help shape his work, and most importantly, his commitment to the world-changing gospel message given to us in Jesus Christ for the whole world. For any reader who takes seriously what is written on the pages that follow, I trust you will be deeply challenged and awakened to the heart of God’s mission for the world.
Matt Till, “Foreword”, in Ephesiology: The Study of the Ephesian Movement (Littleton, CO: William Carey Publishing), 2020. Used by permission.